GAINESVILLE, GAINESVILLE, GAINESVILLE, GAINESVILLE, GA The room appeared to be sufficiently crowded. The evening’s default emcee was Ben Crenshaw, who was joined by Jack Nicklaus and defending champion/host Hideki Matsuyama. The Champions Dinner on Tuesday drew a total of 32 guests, including Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.
According to the official shot, everyone was smiling and having a wonderful time, but that left out the outspoken left-handed elephant in the room. Actually, it was the elephant in the room that drew everyone’s attention Tuesday evening.
Phil Mickelson, who stated earlier this year that he was walking away from golf “to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be,” was absent from the event for the first time since 2004.
Since 1994, the 86th Masters will be the first to be played without a southpaw on the tee sheet. That was two years before Will Zalatoris, one of this year’s Masters favorites, was born, and three years before Tiger Woods’ 12-stroke win at Augusta National transformed the golf world.
A tradition started in 1952, the Champions Dinner. #themasters pic.twitter.com/bXCECQDET1
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 5, 2022
Lefty’s no-show Tuesday night sparked a quiet ruckus at an event that is steeped in tradition. Mickelson’s absence from this year’s Masters was expected, but his empty locker caused a stir in its own right.
It’s not often that a player who isn’t playing at Augusta National makes news at the Masters, but such is life. This pertains to Mickelson’s not-so-subtle flirting with the Saudi-backed Super Golf League. Despite the fact that neither Mickelson nor any other player has expressed a commitment to the fledgling circuit, the overtures were plain enough.
Mickelson described the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious” greed to Golf Digest in February at the Saudi International. Mickelson appeared to go full scorched earth two weeks later in an interview with Alan Shipnuck for an upcoming biography, when he slammed both the PGA Tour and the Super League, stating that commissioner Jay Monahan “won’t do what’s right” and labeling the Saudis “scary motherf—kers.”
Mickelson said shortly after that he was stepping down as a result of his “reckless” statements, which is odd given that his entire career has been defined by recklessness.
There isn’t much in the way of protocol for this. Former champions are always warmly welcomed back at Augusta National, but there had been some conjecture that Mickelson had been told gently but firmly that he might want to skip this year’s competition. This group is well-known for its secrecy, but Ridley was quick to clear the air.
On Wednesday, the chairman stated, “I would like to state that we did not disinvite Phil.” “Phil is the defending PGA champion and a three-time Masters champion who gets invited in that and many other categories.”
Mickelson contacted Ridley through text message in “late February, early March,” according to Ridley.
“I expressed my gratitude for his civility in informing me,” the chairman stated. “I told him how much we liked that and that I would be happy to discuss it more with him if he wanted, and he thanked me, and we had a very pleasant exchange.”
Ridley’s statements were noticeably ambiguous and, at least by comparison, restrained when viewed through the prism of history. When Tiger Woods returned to competition after a vehicle accident and following scandal in 2009, the chairman’s predecessor was not nearly as ambiguous or reserved.
“It’s not just the severity of his behavior that’s so egregious here; it’s the fact that he disappointed all of us, and, more importantly, our kids and grandkids,” said then-chairman Billy Payne of Woods. “Our hero fell short of our aspirations for a role model for our children.”
In Ridley’s defense, beyond his rash words, the depth of Mickelson’s reservations is unknown. He’s simply in a sour mood right now, as they say in the Deep South. Even at last month’s Players Championship, Monahan showed a hesitation to publicly chastise Mickelson. Lefty hasn’t been suspended, according to the commissioner, though he did say that when/if he returns, there will need to be a “discussion.”
“I know Phil has been a regular visitor to the Masters for a long time. “He’s played a significant role in our history,” Ridley remarked. “I certainly – and we surely – wish him the best as he works through the challenges he’s currently dealing with.”
Mickelson has been responsible for several of the Masters’ most memorable moments over the last two decades. When he won his first green jacket in 2004, he made the famous “jump.” Two years later, he delivered a dominant performance for his second major victory in a row. On the par-5 13th hole, he hit a fearless 6-iron from the pine straw to set the tone for his third and most recent victory in 2010.
When he first played the Masters in 1991, he was the low amateur, and in 110 tournament rounds at Augusta National, he is a total 72 under par. He’s as much a part of the Masters’ current age as egg salad and azaleas, which is why Tuesday’s dinner felt strangely empty. A part of the supper, a component of this tradition, was missing, tucked away beneath the 32 smiling faces in the official shot.
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